Aviation Expert Explains Cirrus Aircraft’s Parachute Landing

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FORT SMITH (KFSM)—It’s not everyday you see a plane make a parachute landing. It's actually a unique safety feature of the single-engine Cirrus aircraft.

A local aviation expert said the feature may have saved lives in Tuesday’s (Nov. 3) landing.

“The parachute system is as far as I know, probably one of the best things that ever happened to aviation,” Greg Reed said. “It`s actually saved a lot of lives.”

Reed, the owner and instructor of the Southern Eagle Aviation Flight School in Fort Smith, said the parachute is a safety feature necessary because of how fast a Cirrus SR22T, like the one involved in Tuesday's emergency landing, is designed to go.

“They`re very fast airplanes,” he said. “They don`t like slow speeds at all. They tend to stall anything slower than 70-80 mph, you`re not going to fly very far.”

He said the parachute allows the plane to fall at a slow enough speed that the people on board are less likely to get severely injured or killed.

An aircraft mechanic explained Cirrus planes are made of mostly fiberglass.

“To my knowledge there`s no metal as far as the actual structure of the aircraft,” Reed said. “It`s all composite aircraft, very lightweight, very strong, very powerful airplane.”

The model is relatively new to the market and new to pilots. The plane involved in Tuesday's emergency landing was only about a year old, according to flight records.

Experts say the parachute system consists of a ballistic rocket-fired parachute that must be deployed at least 500 feet above the ground. If they couldn`t see the ground, their best bet was the parachute.

“That parachute not only protected the pilot and the passengers, anybody on the ground, was saved because of it, yeah, it`s a good thing,” Reed said.

Reed said he trains his pilots to glide when the engine quits if possible because deploying the parachute typically means the plane won't be salvageable.

"When you deploy that parachute, you buy a new airplane,” he said.

There have been more than 54 saves and 110 survivors in aircraft equipped with the cirrus air frame and parachute system, according to the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association.